CRISPR Vector Used to Genetically Modify Human Embyros Was Purchased for $100

Any medium-sized Invitro Fertilization (IVF) clinic could utilize a CRISPR vector that can be purchased for $100 to replicate the embryo gene edit.

Geneticist He Jiankui claims to have altered the genes of twin girls born this month. He Jiankui presented his work in a forum organized by the University of Hong Kong to discuss human embryo editing.

The highlights are
* the work was thorough
* the consent was done
* the actual genetic change cost component is trivial and most of the cost in this case and for any future genetic modification would be in the multiple genetic tests and screening. It is likely that if this were done routinely all costs would come down. Cost will not be a limiting factor in the developed world.
* the families made the informed decision to use the genetically modified babies
* Geneticist He Jiankui has a personal, ethical and compassionate reason for performing this work. Others can reasonably disagree. It has been put forward that there are alternatives to genetic HIV immunity. There can be sperm washing to enable a safe HIV-free baby. The counter argument is how safe the child will be living with an HIV infected person. The statistic claimed is that there 0.5 to 2.0% chance of transmission after the child is born.
* Embryo selection with genetic screening is an alternative in some cases. However, this is not possible if neither parent has a recessive gene.

Father of the Baby Girls is HIV Positive and Desperately Wanted Them to Be HIV Immune

Geneticist He Jiankui also had personal experience with HIV. He came from a village with 30% HIV infection rates. Parents had to donate children to relatives in other locations in order to prevent HIV transmission.

All of the volunteers had educated backgrounds and were familiar with HIV. All fathers had HIV infections. They were in a community social group who shared knowledge about HIV. They were familiar with the science and pros and cons. There was a one hour and ten-minute pre-informed consent discussion. They were well educated and could read and understand the material. The 21-page informed consent was gone through line by line and paragraph by paragraph. There were two other observers. They were given two rounds of informed consent. The first was informal. The second was personally performed by He Jiankui.

The project had about 30 families. Some dropped out. There are about 20+ embryos created. There is one more woman who is in the early stage of pregnancy. The program has been paused. Geneticist He Jiankui is currently suspended.

Physicist and Genetics expert Stephen Hsu describes the situation at his blog Infoproc:

At one hour and 25 minutes into the video He JianKu claims that the parents were given the option to use unedited embryos for their pregnancy but chose to use the edited ones. This decision was made even after being informed of the existence of a possible off-target edit in an inter-genic region. The possible off-target was not confirmed by later analysis. If true, this has some important ethical implications. The problem becomes one of parental choice and reproductive freedom. IIUC, the father has rather strong feelings concerning HIV (being HIV positive) and the parents strongly desired HIV-resistance in their daughters. Who are we or anyone else to tell the parents whether to use the edited or unedited embryos?

Stephen Hsu Describes Simple Genetic Screening And Embyro Selection is an Existing Alternative

Gene-editing using CRISPR, not a technical breakthrough — it has been possible for some time. What is new is that someone had the audacity to push it to completion with human embryos. Some researchers who attended He’s talk a few months ago at Cold Spring Harbor (the talk covered methodology but with no hint that real babies would be produced) found it sound but unremarkable.

In the near term most applications of CRISPR in IVF can already be accomplished simply by screening (genetic testing) against the undesirable genetic variant. No need to edit, just select one of the embryos without the variant.

With CRISPR one can potentially edit IN new genetic variants that neither parent has. This “enhancement” is much more ethically questionable, but may eventually happen. However it can only be done with simple single-gene conditions.

Eventually we may have the technology to do hundreds of edits at a time, which will allow modification of polygenic traits. Most traits are controlled by many genes.

24 thoughts on “CRISPR Vector Used to Genetically Modify Human Embyros Was Purchased for $100”

  1. Scientists have made sperm cells from skin cells not too long ago, as I recall. Or they will, if they haven’t yet. So what would the world need us men for? If a woman becomes sexually excited there are already products you can purchase for masturbation and orgasm. Heck, there are more female products for that than male ones.

    People need each other for companionship, compassion, friendship, family. You’re not baby incubators, and we’re not semen dispensers. I mean, sex is nice and all, but there’s a lot more to life (and to sex, for that matter) than just reproduction.

    For the rest of your rant, I’ll just say that humans have a lot more capacity for understanding the world than you give us credit for. I does take time and effort, and I do encourage you to invest that. Science isn’t about deciding things. It’s more like deciphering a good mystery by collecting clues, and trying to fit all the evidence. Personally I like having unanswered questions. It means there’s still more to learn.

    Finally, as a scientist once said, “We are like gods, so we may as well get good at it.”

  2. How long before they eliminate sex as the normal way to have children? They’ll be making babies in tubes or whatever and parents will have the choice of male or female along with all other characteristics that are really supposed to be determined by the natural way. Man is not God! Maybe one day since there’s no reason to have sex maybe women will be deleted from existence! What would the world need us women for? If man becomes sexually excited there are already products you can purchase for masterbation and orgasm. But in time that to may be taken out of the genetic code! Why then does man need a penis that is designed to fit inside of a vagina to reproduce?! The penis to could be eliminated and turned into just a small area for urination! At what point does God say ok enough!!! Or maybe you don’t believe in a God, you think we came from monkeys, oh but before that we crawled out of the ocean, and before that were tiny organisms that came from a big bang!!! But nobody has ever decided where matter and cells all came from to begin with. Man cannot wrap his head around time and that all things has a beginning and an end. Where is the beginning? Where did everything come from to begin with? Faith says there is a God, he is the beginning and end! And I don’t know much about the Bible but it makes more sense to me. So with man making man babies what then does man evolve into next? I hope reincarnation is a myth because I’d really hate to live in man’s new world! saphire3518@gmail

  3. GoldFan has the right idea in the general case. In this case, whether they did that part or not, they fertilized some eggs with that sperm, and then genetically edited the resulting embryons to give them additional HIV resistance. The father being a carrier is really just an excuse.

  4. They’re not talking about a single molecule/virus/whatever. It’s $100 for a packaging unit (vial/bottle/etc).

  5. Genetic modification isn’t infectious. It’ll only affect the modified person’s offspring, and even that would take decades. So “introduced into the world at large” is nonsense. Meanwhile, the technology keeps advancing, we get better at predicting the results etc. At some point, adults could be edited too, so it becomes reversible. Even with only embryo modification, the changes can be reversed/corrected in the offspring when they’re conceived.

  6. “Life is Most Important in Life” is true.

    Only a bot (a relentless psychopath computer) or a person who has chosen to behave as one would not agree.

    No fantasy. If you believe I have it wrong then reply without ever using life to prove something else can be more important to life. Otherwise, you have just told the public that the person who wrote the real “Most Important Truth in Life” is telling lies.

    Which is it. Have you betrayed the human race and are telling lies or is it you that is spewing some fantasy as a cowardly and unnecessarily anonymous comment as spam?”

  7. I was in the genetics field and could do literally just about everything in it. $50 for a small concentration of Cas9:

    Not sure what concentrations are required for a typical protocol, but it’s just an enzyme. Probably can be done for a few dollars.

    The real challenge is controlling it and the ethical problems. CRISPR/Cas9’s efficiency is not good (something like 1/5 accomplish what you want) with lots of undesired DNA splicing.

  8. “…the vast majority of the people in the USA rape, enslave and slaughter animals…”

    And that’s how you know you’re reading someone’s childish fantasy and not a real argument.

  9. The AIDS virus is transmitted in the male seminal fluid, not the actual sperm, so all that was need was “sperm washing” which is a safe and proven technique that doesn’t require any genetic manipulation. Sperm washing removes the seminal fluid and replaces it with an artificial support medium. The sperm plus medium is tested for traces of HIV before being used for fertilization.

    I believe sperm washing is used in all assisted fertility procedures, even if the father doesn’t have any illnesses.

  10. I am honestly going to be real. I have no idea what this is. The father has HIV he wanted his own sperm to be HIV Negative when in fact its in his blood. he used his sperm witch you are calling it a vector ? Everyone commenting has diffrent things to say im over here still trying to figure out how in the hell did he make twins with his sperm and they both are hiv negative. Brain is having a headache. To much being told and stupid government fighting UGh. People missing no bodys being found even though we have Great investigator but non want to do there jobs unless there paid billions of dollars world is Crazy !! Greedy people, Bullys and horrible people. Only a few decent normal people out there. Sad

  11. Children are not property, they’re not to a commodity to be scrificied upon the altar of their parent’s delusions.

    Like corporations, children are people and people have right.

  12. This libertarian idea of freedom to choose your child’s future is one point of view. However, genetic alteration has consequences NOT limited to your own offspring. This genetic change proceeds throughout the ENTIRE GENETIC MAKE UP of the person. This genetic change can therefore be introduced into the WORLD POPULATION through normal procreation. Perhaps this particular genetic change (resistance to HIV, IF the change was successful and not “botched”) is desirable. However, does that mean that all genetic changes will be desirable for the ENTIRE WORLD? What if racists decide that we need to mass produce little blond, blue eyed Aryan babies? What about gills? What about super intelligent, yet highly ambitious and amoral behavior? What about poorly completed genetic editing that causes a dangerous mutation? Shouldn’t there be some sort of representative body limiting the scope of the usage of this genetic technology where its results will BE INTRODUCED INTO THE WORLD POPULATION AT LARGE? Is it possible to contain this technology? Will it just be released without any controls?

  13. It doesn’t matter whether or not we call them human. All that matters most is that “Life is Most Important in Life”. They are “Most Important”, same as all life.

    Now, we should consider their intelligence, their ability to suffer, and what is in the best interest of life in general in our choices, before deciding whether they have a right to live.

    I know that is hard to hear for most of you reading here, as the vast majority of the people in the USA rape, enslave and slaughter animals for needless reasons, irrespective of that life’s intelligence, ability to suffer and what is in the best interest of life in general, and then tell lies that they had the need. But, “Life is Most Important in Life” is The Most Important Truth in Life. If anyone says, writes or does something that does not agree it can only be lies because it is always true for life.

  14. I think it is slowly starting to sink into most people that this stuff is fundamentally cheap. Bio-engineering is fundamentally cheap. it does not require billion dollar facilities (like 300mm semiconductor fabs) or a multi-billion dollar Apollo style program to cure aging.

    Liz Parish developed two CRISPR gene therapies on her own in what was essentially a “garage” level lab. Now this guy bought his gene therapy vectors for a hundred bucks. That alone should tell you something.

    I think this stuff, particularly with anti-aging, is going to come fast and furious starting about now.

  15. This is quite different than the old eugenics argument. Aside from the question of unforseen, non darwinian side effects of the genetic mutation, we are, with this small step, taking the ruler that we use to measure our humanity and twisting it into a pretzel.
    This should not be allowed on our home planet. If you want to make superbabies, and I know the softer gender would want to do just that, join Elon Musk and go colonize some other planet to do it on.

  16. Just the old Eugenics argument. At what point does an edited human no longer be considered human. However this one is minor and I wouldn’t be entirely against removing genetic defects etc. However one issue could be conformity. Maybe the pre-disposition to a certain disease will also be the trait that allows us to create a vaccine to a super virus in the future, but we’ve eliminated all of our immune’s. Or any other such arguments against.

    Just 2 Chinese babies in my eyes though.

  17. I’d like to hear the argument of why it matters what choice some outher indevidind makes for their children. I can’t recall a time where I’ve ever told anouther adult what they are/are not doing right with their child’s lives…..

  18. Shame on you for being so self righteous. Put yourself in these parents shoes or other parents shoes who carry a gene for any devastating disease. This breakthrough gives them a chance for normal, healthy children. If this was you, you’d want the same.

  19. It is arguable whether the twins edited and born by this rogue researcher are even human. True, noone would want to contemplate killing the infants, but preventative measure like sterilization should be considered.

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